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Making gluten-free beer

By Karen Bjornland
Thursday, February 20, 2014

“In heaven, there is no beer. That’s why we drink it here.”

So goes the American version of an old German song.

But what if you can’t drink it?

If you have celiac disease, the barley and wheat can cause hellish digestive troubles. And the only effective treatment for the auto-immune disorder is a lifelong gluten-free diet.

When Tim Ladd of Lake Luzerne was diagnosed in 2005, he was disappointed that he could no longer enjoy a cold one with his buddies.

He tried commercial gluten-free beers, like Redbridge from Anheuser-Busch and New Grist, which is made in Milwaukee.
“I didn’t care for any of them,” he says.

Local craft breweries didn’t seem to make any either.

A few years later, his wife bought him a gluten-free Mr. Beer kit.

“That was my first experiment with beer. I followed the directions and it came out beautiful. It tasted good.”

But the beer kits only make two gallons, which isn’t very economical. Ladd decided to create his very own gluten-free beer.

With the help of Reed Antis, co-owner of Saratoga Zymurgist in Saratoga Springs, Ladd came up with a recipe.

The main ingredient is sorghum, a plant with a high sugar content that grows in the South.

Ladd, who cooks up his home brew in the kitchen of his log cabin home, uses a sorghum extract and then adds some honey.

“I buy whole oats. And I roast them. As long as they are organic oats, you’re OK,” he says.

“You can’t use any barley. No wheat. Even maltodextrin. Some of your malts have gluten in them, so you have to be careful.”

For the hops, he likes Cascade or a German Magnum. “The yeast is Nottingham. It has to be a gluten-free yeast. That’s one of the
things you have to watch.”

Ladd calls his dark amber-colored brew THA or Tim’s Honey Ale.

“If you look at the color and the body of it, it’s definitely a pilsner style, but the taste is closer to a lager,” he says.

“If I had to compare it to something, I would say Blue Moon or Killian’s Red, or in between the two.”

Ladd’s friends, none of whom have celiac disease, are quite impressed. Some even beg for it when they come to his house.

“Everybody I share it with is like ‘Hey, this is good,’ ” Ladd says. “They could drink it on a regular basis.”

While he is happy to share his homemade beer, he hasn’t labeled his bottles yet and he’s keeping his recipe a secret.

“It took me two years to tweak it to how I wanted it,” he says.
Ladd, who works as a supervisor for Munter Enterprises, a Middle Grove contracting company, and has his own home repair/remodeling business, makes five gallons about every three months.

Mary Antis, co-owner of Saratoga Zymurgist with husband Reed, says there’s a growing interest in gluten-free home-brewing.

“For celiacs, it’s probably been around for a long time, but it’s more popular now because of the gluten-free craze,” she says.

Besides the gluten-free Mr. Beer kit, the store now sells Clarity Ferm, a product that reduces the gluten in a beer’s wheat and barley.

“We’ve gotten rave reviews from customers who have used it,” she says.

Ladd encourages other celiacs to try home-brewing.

“Don’t be scared. There’s a lot of help out there. Local help. You don’t have to rely on the Internet,” he says.

“It’s a nice hobby that has a lot of camaraderie in it.”

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